After stumbling upon photos of drag performers in the 1950s, Writer/director Charlie Polinger found his curiosity triggered. Research increased his interest and after reaching out and speaking to these artists, he was totally invested. Forming this new found knowledge into a moving and complex tale of heartbreak, within the societal constraints of the time, Polinger crafted A Place to Stay – a period piece with a contemporary approach.
It’s the late 50s, Kansas City. Andy and Gordon are in love. A postcard addressed to his boyfriend leads Andy to the suburbs, where he discovers Gordon’s double life. Posing as Gordon’s colleague, Andy invites himself for dinner and settles in to meet the family. What follows is a night of high emotions, heavy drinking and broken hearts.
Inspired by the real-life conversations he had, with those who had lived in this fashion, Polinger was fascinated by their experiences and the emotional complexity of living double lives. Wanting to capture what it was like in this oppressive culture, to perform in night clubs and then return to the family home, the director aimed to craft a 50s melodrama atmosphere around his narrative, citing Douglas Sirk as an influential source.
One could argue that love triangles or double lives are hardly original topics. However, Polinger ensures the conflict in his narrative remains interesting and engaging by layering the emotional ramifications of each of his characters’ actions and presenting each one of them to the audience through an empathic lens. There is no villain in his story, except for the labels and conventions of the period, which end up trapping and controlling the three characters and are ultimately not only the backdrop, but the main catalysts of the discord.
“Films from the 50s never tried to prove they’re from the 50s”
The period ends up being a very important part of the narrative, yet it is not introduced in a flashy or overt manner, like many period pieces tend to do. Instead it is established in the finer details, that eventually allow us to piece together and place the film within a time frame, without ever distracting from the characters’ exposition.
“One thing we noticed was that films from the 50s never tried to prove they’re from the 50s”, Polinger explains as we discuss the production of his short. This subtlety is found in the directorial choices of the film. Lighting playing an essential role in underlying a scene with just the right amount of warmth, brightness or blurriness – depending on the context. While the symmetry and contrast of the first and last scenes deliver an emotionally devastating end, without being overly dramatic.
A Place to Stay had its World Premiere at the Palm Springs ShortFest in 2018. Polinger is now working on developing a couple of feature film scripts and hopes to direct one in the near future, while also working on a potential tv series idea.